Prospect Faceoff: Two great AHL stories go head-to-head, other top prospects matchup from around the globe

By David Hahn
Stanislav Galiev - Hershey Bears; Matt Murray - Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins - Prospect Faceoff 3-11

Photo: Hershey Bears forward Stanislav Galiev and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goaltender Matt Murray go head-to-head in an AHL Eat Division showdown this weekend (courtesy of Corey Silvia/Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

 

In the AHL, one player who is ascending back to top prospect status goes head-to-head against a record-setting goaltender. In NCAA action, the Big Ten may be decided this weekend as the two top teams and their leaders clash. The battle for the last playoff spot in the OHL’s Western Conference heats up with a pivotal game between two of the teams fighting to get in. Two solid games in the QMJHL and WHL complete this week’s Prospect Faceoff.

Leon Draisaitl (Kelowna) vs. Cole Ully (Kamloops) – WHL

In a tale of two seasons, the Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers meet up in an important game for both sides. In Kelowna, after recently passing the 50-win plateau, they will turn to a new face to maintain their status as the top team. In Kamloops, home cooking will be critical as one WHL veteran looks to return his team to the playoffs.

In early January, the WHL transactions page saw quite a few deadline deals completed. Two in particular stood out, the first coming when Leon Draisaitl was returned to the Prince Albert Raiders. That ended a 37-game stint in the NHL that saw him post nine points. The second move came mere hours later when he was traded to the Kelowna Rockets. Since then, Draisaitl has been one of the most productive players in the WHL. He has scored 16 goals and 27 assists in just 26 games, leading a powerhouse Rockets team straight to the top of the WHL standings. There is a wealth of talent surrounding him, and Draisaitl will be looking to avenge his two prior playoff experiences with Prince Albert where they were swept in consecutive seasons.

The Kamloops Blazers are running out of time to qualify for the playoffs. The task of closing the two-point gap will fall squarely on the shoulders of Cole Ully. The evasive forward started off the season on a tear, earning a professional entry-level contract from the Dallas Stars in December. Ully leads Kamloops in virtually every statistical category and ranks sixth overall in the WHL scoring race. He is 15 points clear of the Blazers second leading scorer, totaling 32 goals – 12 of those coming with the man advantage – and 52 assists in 63 games played. One eye-popping statistic that stands out is his +23 rating, playing on a team that has conceded 49 more goals than they have scored. Heading into this pivotal game, Ully has 22 points in his last 16 games and has the Blazers on the cusp of the final Western Conference playoff spot.

Julien Nantel (Rouyn-Noranda) vs. Daniel Audette (Sherbrooke) – QMJHL

Two players who have not been spoken of often in the QMJHL will meet up this weekend. For the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, one player working to become more than just a complementary asset faces off against a former first overall pick in the QMJHL draft.

Heading into the season, Julien Nantel had consistency issues to work through after posting a respectable rookie campaign. That rookie season was rewarded last summer as the Colorado Avalanche used their seventh round pick to add Nantel. Often ignored on a team struggling to stay above .500, Nantel has performed in critical situations for the Huskies. He has put together three point streaks of at least six games this season, becoming one of the more reliable players in Rouyn-Noranda. He has been particularly dangerous on the penalty kill, as his five shorthanded goals are tied for second among all QMJHL players. To date, Nantel has 25 goals and 34 assists in 59 games.

Often times, progeny of former NHL players immediately draw comparisons to their famous fathers. For Daniel Audette, son of NHL veteran Donald, his diminutive stature and slick skill has the Montreal Canadiens hoping that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. As an expansion franchise, Sherbrooke was awarded the first overall selection in 2012 and used that pick on Daniel Audette, making him the face of the franchise. After posting 29 points in 54 games in his rookie season and 76 points in 68 games last season, Audette has continued to be a consistent force for the Sherbrooke Phoenix. Centering a pair of talented Swiss imports in Tim Weiser and Kay Schweri, Audette has amassed 26 goals and 39 assists in 56 games. The talented trio has 35 power play goals between them, positioning Sherbrooke squarely in the playoff race.

Dylan Sadowy (Saginaw) vs. Sonny Milano (Plymouth) – OHL

The Saginaw Spirit and Plymouth Whalers are in a three-way fight with the Windsor Spitfires for the final playoff spot in the OHL’s Western Conference. Saginaw and Plymouth met last Thursday, with the Spirit picking up a 4-1 win. This game will feature their respective team’s leading scorers going head-to-head.

For Saginaw, Dylan Sadowy registered a hat trick during their last matchup, scoring at even strength, shorthanded, and on the power play. It has become a regular sight for Spirit fans, as Sadowy has contributed in many facets this season. He has potted 41 goals and 30 assists in 62 games this season. Sadowy is tied for fourth in the OHL in overall goal scoring, with just nine of his goals coming with the man advantage, a testament to his strong work ethic at even strength. Sadowy has been especially dangerous shorthanded – his seven goals on the penalty kill ranks second in the OHL. Overall, Sadowy, a San Jose Sharks prospect, has been one of the most improved players in the league and is far-and-away the most important player for the Spirit.

Heading into the summer of 2014, most hockey fans knew Sonny Milano as a viral video superstar. However, the Columbus Blue Jackets had other plans, selecting him 16th overall in the NHL Draft. From there, Milano made the difficult decision to forgo a commitment to Boston College in favor of the Plymouth Whalers. Unfortunately for Milano, it has been a difficult season in Plymouth, where rumors of a potential move to Flint, Michigan came to fruition. On the ice, the Whalers are far behind expectations and Milano has done everything he can to keep them in the hunt. Milano leads the team in scoring with 20 goals and 41 assists in 45 games. He missed time around the holidays to participate with the United States at this year’s World Junior Championship, posting two goals and two assists in five games. Back in Plymouth, he has rarely been held off the scoresheet, and the Whalers will only go as far as Milano will take them.

Andrew Copp (Michigan) vs. Mackenzie MacEachern (Michigan State) – NCAA

The battle for the Big Ten title commences this weekend when Michigan and Michigan State play a pair of games. Michigan State is holding their senior night this weekend while defending home ice, holding a slim one-point advantage over Michigan. With the title on the line, the two rivals will look to their leaders to gain the upper hand.

Andrew Copp hasn’t strayed far from home throughout his career, but the Michigan Wolverines are happy that he chose to stick around Ann Arbor. The former Skyline High School quarterback had a difficult decision to leave football behind four years ago, and since then, he has played an important role wherever he has gone. Now in his junior season with Michigan, Copp recently surpassed his career high in assists with 15 and his 14 goals are just one shy of his best. As Michigan’s captain, Copp has been playing consistently with JT Compher (BUF) and the duo has been a tough pair to contain. Copp, a Winnipeg Jets prospect, leads the Wolverines in power play goals with six, shorthanded goals with two, and has been a key player in the faceoff circle.

Michigan State may not have the depth that the rival Wolverines have, but the Spartans do possess some high-end skill at the top of their lineup. Among them, Mackenzie MacEachern is having a huge sophomore season. In 32 games, MacEachern leads the Spartans in goals with 11, is second in assists with 13, first in power play goals with five, first in game-winning goals with three, and even has scored the team’s lone shorthanded marker on the season. The St. Louis Blues has stepped up in big games for Michigan State, including a hat trick to complete the season sweep over Penn State en route to being named the Big Ten Player of the Week in the middle of February. In games where he has scored a goal, Michigan State is 7-1-1, a testament to the value MacEachern has brought to the Spartans.

Stanislav Galiev (Hershey) vs. Matt Murray (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) – AHL

The Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have been going head-to-head all season long as one of the top rivalries in the AHL. Hershey has gone 4-2-4 against Wilkes-Barre this season and maintains a five-point lead on top of the East Division. In Hershey, a player redefining his prospect status will try to score on the AHL’s best goaltender.

Opinions on Stanislav Galiev have been all over the place since the Washington Capitals made him their third round selection in 2010. Two lackluster seasons bouncing back and forth between Hershey and the ECHL’s Reading Royals left Capitals fans questioning if Galiev would ever put it together. There’s no doubt that Galiev has gone through some growing pains, but those appear to be in the rear-view mirror as Galiev has been one of the most improved players in Hershey. Through 52 games, he has 23 goals, 19 assists, and is a +5. His 13 power play goals led the AHL in that category, a total of three goals clear of everyone behind him. Galiev has been shooting far more frequently, and playing with a ton of confidence.

Coming into this season, Matt Murray was lost in the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie prospect shuffle. After a successful season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Murray’s first full season in the AHL has clearly solidified him as the top goalie in the Penguins’ system. Murray leads the AHL in goals-against average (1.57), save percentage (.940), and shutouts (9). More notable is the fact that Murray established a new, all-time AHL record shutout streak at 304 minutes and 11 seconds, more than 35 minutes better than the previous record, while finishing with 32 saves in a 4-1 win over Springfield last week. As a result, Murray was named this week’s CCM/AHL Player of the Week while helping the Penguins maintain pace with Hershey at the top of the East Division.

Prospect Faceoffs from 3/6-8

Mathew Barzal (Seattle) vs. Paul Bittner (Portland) – WHL

The Portland Winterhawks offensive machine was firing on all cylinders this weekend, including a 7-1 victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds. Oliver Bjorkstrand (CBJ) kicked off the scoring three minutes in off an assist by Paul Bittner (2015), the latter’s only point of the game in a +4 effort. Bjorkstrand finished with four goals on the night, extending his WHL league-leading total to 52. Nic Petan (WPG) had four assists in the win. For Seattle, Mathew Barzal (2015) did not register a point and finished a disappointing -3 on a night to forget.

Timo Meier (Halifax) vs. Loik Leveille (Cape Breton) – QMJHL

Halifax left wing Nik Ehlers (WPG) and Cape Breton center Kyle Farrell matched each others offensive output in a pivotal game for playoff positioning. The Screaming Eagles were a motivated squad, hoping to lock up one of the final spots in the playoffs while coming away with a 5-4 victory. Loik Leveille did not pick up any points and finished -1 for the game while playing his standard, rough-and-tumble brand of hockey. Olivier LeBlanc (CBJ) scored his first two goals for Cape Breton after being acquired from Saint John. But the Screaming Eagles were paced by Farrell, who scored one goal and added three assists in the win. For Halifax, Ehlers added an assist to his fourth hat trick of the season. Timo Meier (2015) picked up his 44th assist of the season and was a +1.

Christian Dvorak (London) vs. Alex Lintuniemi (Ottawa) – OHL

Billed as one of the marquee matchups in the OHL this weekend, the London Knights and Ottawa 67’s did not disappoint. The 67’s rushed out to a 4-1 lead midway through the second period, thanks in part to a pair of goals by Travis Konecny (2015). The Knights chipped away at the lead, with Max Domi (ARZ) and Mitch Marner (2015) picking up a pair of goals before the drama started. Down by one goal with just 40 seconds remaining in regulation, Christian Dvorak (ARZ) ripped his 41st goal of the season to send the game to overtime. There, London’s Swedish defenseman, Julius Bergman (SJS), capped off the 6-5 comeback win with his 12th goal of the year. In total, Dvorak finished with one goal and two assists, while Alex Lintuniemi (LAK) finished +1 and did not register a point for Ottawa.

Mike Reilly (Minnesota) vs. Sam Jardine (Ohio State) – NCAA

No. 12 Minnesota and Ohio State locked up for a pair of games this weekend, splitting the series at one a piece. On Friday, Minnesota spread the wealth and received points from 11 players in their 4-2 win. Kyle Rau (FLA) picked up the game-winning goal, his 16th of the season. Mike Reilly assisted on the insurance marker scored by fellow Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Seth Ambroz late in the second period. Sam Jardine (CHI) had a night to forget, finishing without a point and he was the only Buckeye to finish -3. The next night saw a reversal of fortune, as Ohio State responded with a 5-2 victory. The Buckeyes were paced by two-point efforts from Matthew Weis, Matt Johnson, and team captain Tanner Fritz. Reilly and Jardine both finished even and did not have a point.

Dakota Joshua (Sioux Falls) vs. Maxim Letunov (Youngstown) – USHL

The dynamic duo of Maxim Letunov and Kyle Connor (2015) were far too much for the Sioux Falls Stampede to handle this weekend. On Friday, Youngstown went down early thanks to a Dakota Joshua (TOR) goal. From there, one of Letunov and Connor were involved in six of the next seven Phantoms goals en route to a 7-3 win. Letunov, the newly-acquired Arizona Coyotes prospect, finished with three assists while Connor registered two goals and three assists. The next night, the Phantoms were beneficiaries of an undisciplined Stampede team as Letunov kicked off the scoring on the man advantage with his 23rd goal of the season. Connor again starred, adding another goal and assist to his now USHL-leading total of 61 points. Joshua added an assist before being dismissed from the game thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Follow Dave Hahn on Twitter via @DHahnHockey